Although solar panels are solid systems with few moving parts, they do eventually break down over time, inclement weather, and mishaps.
Even if you clean the panels regularly, the silicon semiconductors that generate the power degrade slowly; after a few decades, they stop producing their rated voltage and current . You can tell if a solar panel is wearing out by physically inspecting it and monitoring its electrical output.
How do solar panels work
All solar panels are made up of several rows of rectangular cells that to the naked eye are like small mirrors. The electricity generation of one cell is very small but when you put dozens of them together the electricity generated is enough to maintain a home.
Inside each cell the electrons move in the silicon material. In each cell, electrons reacting to sunlight move through the silicon material, generating electrical current in the process. This electricity is transported to batteries where it is stored for use in electrical equipment.
Voltage and current output
Measure the output of the solar panel and compare it to the specifications and the nominal value of the panel. To ensure an optimal reading, you need to measure the output at noon on a bright, sunny day. If your solar power installation includes current and voltage indicators, use these numbers to monitor the panel’s electrical performance. Otherwise, measure the power with a multimeter.
When measuring current, make sure the meter is set to a scale of at least 10 amps to avoid damaging it. If the voltage and current readings are more than 20 percent below the panel’s rated output, the panel may be wearing out.
Solar panels can physically wear out from inclement weather and impacts from tree limbs and wind-blown debris.
Like any object left out in the open, a panel expands and contracts slightly with changes in temperature ; When the temperature differences are extreme, or when they are repeated many times over the years, this can lead to cracks in the casing or material of the solar cells.
Also, damage from hail and other falling objects can cause premature failure of a solar panel. A careful physical inspection of the panel will reveal any physical deterioration issues.
The useful life of a typical solar panel is between 20 and 30 years; the panel continues to produce electricity, although the performance will be greatly reduced. Slow changes in the photovoltaic silicon material reduce the panel’s efficiency in converting light into electricity.
If your solar panel is over 20 years old and its electrical output is significantly below its specifications, the panel is likely worn.
The cause of the reduction in the production of a solar panel may be in the auxiliary components connected to the panel and not in the panel itself. For example, the panels may be connected to an inverter and battery system to produce 120 volts AC; problems with the inverter electronics may be the cause of power reduction.
Similarly, lead wiring or batteries used to produce electricity at night have a limited lifespan; after a few years, they may need to be replaced.
9 signs that the solar panel is damaged
1. Low and irregular power
Before installing the panels you must observe how the weather is, the electrical production depends entirely on the sun. However, if you find that the system is not reaching the expected power regularly, it is most likely that the solar panels are damaged and need repair.
2. Cracks or broken glass cases
This can decrease power output by at least 2.5%. Cracks are often caused by improper handling and installation, temperature variations, and adverse weather conditions. To achieve maximum system efficiency, do not neglect these signs of physical degradation.
3. Problems with the inverter
The panel inverter is the second most important part of the system, after the solar panels themselves. Converts collected solar energy into electricity. A malfunction of the inverter will cause the system to supply less power. Pay attention to red or green lights and error messages, and fix them before it’s too late.
4. Age of solar panels
The system is likely to run for more than 20 years. Once that figure is reached, it is advisable to be more attentive to system errors. You probably need to perform regular maintenance on your solar panels to prevent damage.
5. Wiring problems
Loose solder connections are typical problems with solar panel installations. The same goes for other wiring problems, such as rust and corrosion. If the cell’s power cycles on and off when you touch the panel, the wiring could be the culprit.
6. Debris or dirt
They can come from a variety of sources, such as bird droppings and foliage. If they cannot be washed, the debris can be safely removed by professionals. If you try to clean it without experience you can cause more damage to the panels or even worse have an unfortunate accident.
7. Burn marks and discoloration
Beware of yellow to dark brown discolorations on the conductive bands of your panels. These are signs of corrosion, which can cause uneven temperature distribution. This, in turn, results in lower energy production.
8. Low-quality or counterfeit materials
To reduce costs, some suppliers combine authentic materials with counterfeits. This reduces the efficiency of your system. Poor quality materials must be replaced immediately before they endanger the rest of the system.
9. Unexpected power outages
This is the most obvious sign that the solar panel system requires repair or replacement due to being damaged. The most common triggers for unexpected shutdowns are manufacturing defects, faulty installation, and wiring problems.